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You Can Help Find Life on Mars

Astronomy Picture of the Day pulled a fast one for April Fool’s Day, humorously suggesting viewers might help scientists find water on Mars.  (The Mars in the picture was the candy kind.) The joke was on them, because they got baloney all over their faces with this line: “Finding water on different regions on Mars […]

How to Get Something from Nothing: Genetic Code, Syntax Explained?

Two articles in recent science literature attempt to show that complex entities, like the genetic code and the syntax of human language, are no big deal.  They can emerge from precursors by chance.     In PNAS recently,1 veteran researcher Harold J. Morowitz (George Mason U) and two colleagues proposed a new theory for the […]

Baloney Detecting Exercise for Students

Jeff Barbour’s brief history of everything was published on Universe Today.  His essay, entitled “Where does intelligent life come from?” paints a short but sweeping panorama from the Big Bang to humans.  Its style is somewhat like watered-down Carl Sagan or gilded Neil deGrasse Tyson (see 09/29/2004 entry).  Here’s a sample about the origin of […]

Mars Makeover Underway

Amazing claims about Mars are coming in almost too fast to fathom, reports Space.Com, especially from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.  These include evidence for recently active volcanos, frozen ice beds, methane and vestiges of glaciers and waterfalls.  Activity is “only yesterday” in the standard geological timescale.  One said, “it could start up […]

Martians Might Be Troglodytes

According to an article on Space.Com, Spirit and Opportunity aren’t going to find critters on the surface.  Since the surface is harsh because of radiation, a safer environment might be found in caves.  The discovery of soluble rock and methane is leading some to imagine that extensive caves might exist on Mars, and maybe that […]

Aliens of the Deep Preaches Astrobiology and Chemical Evolution

Titanic director James Cameron has released a large-format, 3D film of undersea life around hydrothermal vents, entitled Aliens of the Deep and released by Walt Disney pictures.  National Geographic News interviewed Cameron.  When asked why he speculated in the movie that life could have originated around deep-sea vents, he said: Presumably the hydrothermal activity was […]

Will “Top-Down” and “Bottom-Up” Meet in the Middle?

Some difficult problems can be approached from opposite ends.  Engineers needing to build a shaft through a mountain, for instance, might start digging from the bottom and the top, trying to find each other in the middle.  But what if the mountain has an unanticipated impregnable layer?  Or what if there is no mountain, but […]

Astrobiology: 0 Steps Forward, 3 Steps Back

Astrobiology, the science in search of a subject, has major hurdles to overcome in its quest to explain everything from hydrogen to high technology.  Despite being one of the most active interdisciplinary research projects around the world (see 01/07/2005 entry), a leading researcher this week conceded that several promising leads of the past are now […]

Astrobiology: Follow the Money

To date, astrobiology remains, as George Gaylord Simpson once quipped, “an area of study without a known subject.”  Yet it is one of the hottest research areas within NASA.  A renowned origin-of-life researcher from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Dr. Jeffrey Bada, found out why when he read the new book The Living Universe: NASA and […]

Media and Journals Conflict Over Mars Life

Timed for the one-year anniversary of the Mars Exploration Rovers, PBS aired a NOVA program last night about Spirit and Opportunity, and the teams that landed them and operated them on Mars.  As is common for popular programs about Mars exploration, NOVA suggested that evidence for past water found (especially by Opportunity at Meridiani Planum) […]

Did Martians Win the War of the Worlds?

In the H.G. Wells version, the Martian invaders with their tripod machines and death rays, wreaking havoc on Earth, were defeated by Earth bacteria.  The new scientific plot envisioned by scientists, reported on Space.com, is that the Martians had the bacteria, and invaded Earth with it to either conquer Earth life or spread it onto […]

Intelligent Design Evidence Convinces Atheist of Designer

According to an AP report on ABC News, a famous British atheist now believes in God based on scientific evidence.  “At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe.  A super-intelligence is the only good explanation […]

Did Life Begin as “Failed Mineralogy” on the Seafloor?

Exclusive  Another origin-of-life expert made a presentation to a filled auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Dec. 2 (cf. 11/05/2004 headline).  His scenario differed radically from last month’s.  Instead of trying to get ribose (for RNA) to form in a desert, he put his speculative natural laboratory 4 to 10 km underwater at the […]

Volcanic Gas Helps Link Up the Building Blocks of Life

A gas emitted by volcanoes, carbonyl sulfide (COS), enables amino acid molecules to form peptide bonds.  That’s what long-time origin-of-life researcher Leslie Orgel and colleagues at Scripps Institute have found.  The reaction is especially productive in the presence of metal ions that act as catalysts, and even better in the presence of oxidizing agents.  Moreover, […]

PBS Airs Another Evolution Series: Origins

PBS NOVA aired its latest installment on evolution, a 4-hour miniseries entitled Origins, on September 28 and 29.  The website hype describes it as follows: Has the universe always existed?  How did it become a place that could harbor life?  What was the birth of our planet like?  Are we alone, or are there alien […]
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